In December 2019 the Department published Remote Work in Ireland, a report on the prevalence and types of remote working solutions in Ireland, the attitudes towards them and influencing factors for employees and employers when engaging with these solutions.
The report found that there is a need for national guidance for employers and employees seeking to engage with remote working solutions. Following its publication, the Department committed to the delivery of this guidance.
Much has changed since the publication of this report. Amid the COVID-19 crisis, those who could conceivably work from home have been encouraged to do so, resulting in an unprecedented instance of mass homeworking. In addition to the existing guidance in place, new guidance has been released from a number of sources to advise employers and employees on the practicalities of short-term homeworking.
In July 2020 the Department held a Public Consultation on Remote Work Guidance for employers and employees. The full findings of the consultation are available here: Consultation on Guidance for Remote Working: Summary and Analysis. In response to the results of the consultation, this guidance page will act as a live resource for employers and employees adopting remote working practices. As such, it will be updated as new guidance is developed to support workers and business, both in response to COVID-19 and in the longer-term.
In January 2021 the Department published ‘Making Remote Work – National Remote Working Strategy’ which outlines the vision for the future of remote working in Ireland.
As remote working arrangements have numerous impact areas and vary for businesses, it can be time-consuming to get to grips with all the relevant considerations to be undertaken. To provide employers with a quick way to navigate the adoption of remote working arrangements, the Department has produced a Checklist for Working Remotely. This Checklist covers each of the areas outlined on this page in an easy-to-use format for businesses.
Navigating the guidance
Health and Safety
The responsibility for health and safety at work rests with the employer regardless of whether an employee works remotely. There are numerous pieces of legislation covering the topic of Safety, Health and Welfare at Work, which can be found in the legislation section of this webpage. The Health and Safety Authority (HSA) has overall responsibility for the administration and enforcement of health and safety at work in Ireland.
Returning to work during COVID-19
As businesses and workers continue to navigate COVID-19, a lack of clarity may emerge in whether to continue working/operating remotely or to return to the office. In deciding on a return to office working, employers have a duty of care to their workers in ensuring a safe and healthy workplace. The HSA has produced guidance on returning to work for employers and employees. Employers must also be cognisant of government guidelines on the issue. The guides to each level includes a section on work; who should return on-site, and who should continue to work remotely where possible.
General health and safety
The HSA webpage on remote working provides guidance and information on responsibilities under safety, health and welfare law. Their guidance on working from home includes advice such as the key responsibilities for the employee and employer, work-related stress, equipment provision, maintaining communication, good practice in setting up a workspace and risk assessment.
If employees have a disability, are young workers or are pregnant, the employer needs to ensure that the tasks and working conditions do not adversely affect their health. The HSA has provided further information on sensitive risk groups.
Setting up an ergonomic workspace
The HSA has produced a ‘Position Yourself Well’ infographic, to advise employees on setting up an ergonomic workspace. The HSA also provides further guidance on this area in its guidance on working from home.
Safety, health and welfare at work also covers psychosocial aspects such as work-related stress.
The employer has a duty to have safe systems of work in place; they should ensure that the system of work for those working from home is reasonable. This includes supervision, communication, training, breaks, supports, and fairness, allocation of work and respectful behaviour and management.
In the context of temporary homeworking during the outbreak of COVID-19, the HSA advises that where employees feel added stress from the location of their work, the employer should act reasonably. As such, where stress complaints do arise, these should be met with considered, systematic and appropriate control measures. The HSA provides a Guide on Work Related Stress and has released a podcast which addresses this topic in the context of returning to work under COVID-19.
Mental health and wellbeing
It is important for employees to maintain their mental wellbeing whilst working remotely. This includes avoiding overwork, getting regular exercise and spending time away from their screen. This can be particularly difficult in the context of homeworking during COVID-19.
A useful resource for minding our mental wellbeing and overall health during this time is the Healthy Ireland ‘Keep Well’ campaign. This is an online resource with tips on looking after mental wellbeing, staying active and staying connected. This includes a set of tips for minding your mental health during COVID-19 and guidance on managing home life when working from home. It also includes guidance on eating well, switching off, and accessing local resources.
Insurance and liability
Employees should consult their home insurance policies on coverage in the case of an accident or damage to equipment. It is understood that policyholders will generally have cover for their personal office equipment, for example laptops and computers, in the contents section of the household policy up to stated limits.
According to recent advice for organisations released by Insurance Ireland, it is further understood that any equipment provided by an employer to an employee to work remotely is the responsibility of the employer and is typically covered under the business’s material damage section of its business package policy, subject to policy limit.
Employers have certain responsibilities towards their employees regardless of whether an employee works remotely. The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) outlines these obligations in their ‘What You Should Know‘ webpage which includes information on employer obligations, hours and wages, annual leave and codes of practice.
Terms of Employment
The Public Consultation on Remote Working indicated an interest in further information on who can work remotely, and whether remote working needs to be written into an employment contract. According to the WRC, there is no legislation providing for a right to remote working. Currently, an employer decides the location of an employees’ place of work, and this should be included in the Terms and Conditions of employment following mutual agreement.
As part of the National Remote Work Strategy, legislation will be progressed to provide employees the right to request remote work. The timeline for delivery of this action is Q3 2021. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment held the Public Consultation for this legislation between 1 April and 7 May 2021.
Organisation of Working Time
Employers have a legal responsibility to keep records of employees’ hours worked under the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997. Employers must ensure that their employees receive proper breaks within the day, as well as their daily and weekly rest. Employees also must receive their statutory entitlement to annual leave and public holiday entitlements. Employers should consider if their usual method of monitoring working hours is suitable for remote working. In this context, a time management system to record time and attendance is advisable. The WRC has published an explanatory booklet for employers and employees detailing their responsibilities under the Organisation of Working Time Act.
As part of the National Remote Work Strategy, and following a Public Consultation on the right to disconnect the WRC introduced a Code of Practice on the right to disconnect on 1 April 2021. The Code includes guidance for employees and employers on best practice and employee disengagement outside normal working hours.
Equipment provision, home expenses and tax reliefs
Currently there is no legislation governing costs associated with remote working. The WRC has indicated that, in remote working arrangements, costs are generally agreed by the parties and provided for as part of the Terms and Conditions of Employment or a contract of employment.
Revenue has produced guidance for employers with employees working from home on the tax implications of the provision of equipment and facilities, and home expenses. This includes information on how an employer can provide an allowance of €3.20 a day to relevant employees to cover home expenses.
Revenue has also published similar guidance for employees working from home. This includes information on how, if an employer does not provide an allowance for expenses, an employee can make a claim for tax relief at the end of the year. This guidance is aimed at people who are working at home part-time or full-time.
As part of the National Remote Work Strategy and in the context of Budget 2022, the Department of Finance will review the tax arrangements for remote working for employers and employees and assess the merits of further enhancements.
Currently, there is no specific legislation dealing with a right to privacy in the workplace. According to the WRC, the Data Protection Acts and GDPR Regulations should be observed in terms of an employees’ privacy when working remotely. Guides on applying these Acts are linked in the section below on data protection. The WRC also indicate that an employees’ right to privacy is balanced against the rights of the employer to protect the undertaking, its reputation, resources and equipment
Remote access to networks
According to the Data Protection Commission where a staff member/contractor is allowed to access an employer’s network from a remote location, such access creates a potential weakness in the system. For this reason, the need for such access should be properly assessed and security measures reassessed before remote access is granted. The Data Protection Commission have published guidance on this topic in their Guidance Note for Controllers on Data Security,
Protecting personal data
In response to the sharp increase in people working from home, protecting personal data is increasingly important. The Data Protection Commission has released a note on protecting personal data when working remotely. This covers best practice for employees when using devices, emails, cloud and network access, and paper records.
To promote good practice within an organisation, employers can share this information via an infographic provided by the Data Protection Commission.
With the widespread adopting of remote working, the number of people video-conferencing and video-calling has increased dramatically. The Data Protection Commission has published a set of tips on video-conferencing for organisations and individuals on how to use these technologies in a way that is safe and secure, and ensures an adequate standard of data protection.
Phishing, vishing, remote access threats and business email compromise are all challenges organisations can face when operating remotely. The National Cyber Security Centre has released Cyber Security Guidance on Working from Home, which contains advice on how employees working from home can maximise wi-fi security, good practice when using personal or work devices, and remote conferencing.
The EU Agency for Cybersecurity has also published a set of tips on maintaining cyber security when working from home during COVID-19.
If an employee is working remotely from a hub, the hub owner should be properly security certified (ISO-27001 or similar). Organisations should consider how to mitigate risks which can arise in a third-party space, such as using VPNs and securing shared devices such as printers with personalised pins. Privacy concerns should also be considered such as security of telephone and video calls, which might be offset by the availability of soundproof rooms.
Employers should ensure that the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 are being adhered to regardless of whether their employees are working remotely or not. Employers should also be aware of the Equality Acts when adopting remote working or relevant training within their organisation. For instance, an employee working remotely must have equal access to career development, training and promotion opportunities as those working on-site. An overview on the Employment Equality Acts is available from the Citizens Information Board.
The Remote Work in Ireland report highlighted that training for employees working remotely and for managers in managing distributed teams would therefore be a major enabler in the successful implementation of remote work policies.
As above, whilst there is no specific legislation dealing with the provision of training for remote workers, according to the WRC, best practice would suggest that supports are made available to everyone, regardless of the work location.
In response to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the future remote working opportunities, Laois and Offaly ETB, in collaboration with IDA Ireland, SOLAS and Grow Remote, have created two new online national training programmes that develop the capability and capacity of prospective and current remote workers and line managers nationally. Both courses are 7 weeks in duration.
The Trainers’ Learning Skillnet has also produced fully online 1 and 2-day training courses on the topic of remote work. Three courses are available, aimed at remote workers, line managers, and HR/L&D professionals.
Additional supports are available to employers and employees working remotely. Enterprise Ireland has produced advice on managing remote working and maintaining employee motivation and engagement when working remotely.
Enterprise Ireland has also recently published Emerging through COVID-19: The Future of Work, which provides a wide range of advice to assist employers with implementing remote, blended and flexible working arrangements in the post-COVID-19 context.
In May 2021, Ireland’s first national digital hub network was launched. ConnectedHubs.ie is an online platform which provides information about the facilities available at remote working hubs throughout Ireland, and enables users to book spaces, desks, offices and events in hubs for short and long term use.
For further information, the Acts on which this guidance is based can be read here:
Health and Safety
- EU Directive 90/270/EEC (Display Screen Equipment)
- The EU Framework Agreement on Telework (2002)
- Frequently Asked Questions on applying the Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Act (2005)
- Safety, Health and Welfare at Work Regulations 2007
- European Agency for Safety and Health at Work Guidelines on Workplace Risk Assessment for Teleworkers (2008)
Feature image courtesy of @LeoVaradkar via Twitter